How Might Cannabidiol Impact Schizophrenia?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that has shown possible benefits in studies on a variety of animal models of mental health, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers have likewise also begun to examine CBD's potential utility with schizophrenia. Recently, we discussed a CBD clinical trial for schizophrenic individuals being conducted by a pharmaceutical firm, which could go a long way toward advancing our knowledge about CBD. In this post we will provide some more details on the science behind CBD and schizophrenia. Furthermore, recent medical studies on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which has been shown as a potential therapeutic target for pharmacotherapy, involving a wide range of disorders, including schizophrenia. 

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Schizophrenia is sometimes mistaken as a “rare” mental disorder, when in fact, it impacts roughly 1.1% of all American adults in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Its exact causes are not fully understood, but seem to involve a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental triggers. This disorder's unfortunate outcomes, though, are well-documented and include difficulties maintaining a job, poverty, homelessness, lack of health care, substance abuse, and other mental and physical disorders.

Schizophrenia is certainly among the most debilitating mental illnesses as people with schizophrenia may experience an array of symptoms, grouped into cognitive, positive, and negative symptom categories. According to NIMH, cognitive symptoms can include attention deficits, failure to use information that has recently been acquired, and difficulty making decisions. Positive symptoms are those most frequently associated with schizophrenia in the public eye, including delusions, hallucinations, disordered thoughts, and movement tics or spasms. Negative symptoms, on the other hand, involve the absence of usual behaviors, such as problems with beginning sentences or speaking, a lack of emotion in the voice when the person does speak, a lack of enjoyment in living, and in some cases, difficulties moving or retaining awkward bodily positions for minutes to hours.

Due to CBD's results in studies on other mental illnesses, it makes sense that researchers might consider CBD an option to treat schizophrenia. The 2015 findings of Gomes et al. indicate that, at least in preliminary animal models, CBD seems to exert effects that promote the growth and survival of microglia. Microglia are brain cells that play a support role to neurons, by helping neurons to transmit messages, providing nutrients, and disposing of waste. In animal models of schizophrenia, microglia have been found to die off as negative symptoms emerged. Gomes et al. found, however, that administering CBD liquid to schizophrenic rats led to higher microglial cell counts, and significantly better performance on social and cognitive tasks, compared to control rats. Interestingly, CBD showed effectiveness in that study similar to the established antipsychotic prescription drug, clozapine.

The findings of Peres et al. (2016) expand on the earlier findings by showing that CBD was actually able to prevent the development of schizophrenia in adolescent rats. Their schizophrenia model differed from Gomes et al., in that it involved triggering an immune reaction known to generate schizophrenia-like symptoms as the rats grew to 30-60 days old. Because Peres et al. (2016) used an inflammation-based model, and because CBD administration predicted neurological, social, and cognitive improvements compared to controls, it is possible that CBD could potentially affect schizophrenia through its anti-inflammatory properties. This idea is further supported by the fact that microglia can also release chemical signals to trigger inflammatory reactions. While Gomes et al. (2015) had noted improved survival of these cells, they also detected lower levels of microglial reactions to the environment, suggesting the cells were not sending out emergency signals as they might during the development of schizophrenia.

A recent study was done in 2017 linking the CBD and antipsychotic properties. The study assessed both the safety and effectiveness of CBD with people who have schizophrenia. The method was a randomized double blind parallel group trial. Participants were given a large dose of CBD and some were given a placebo.  The results showing that CBD has potential to help lower levels of positive psychotic symptoms, improving cognitive performance as well as improving overall function. CBD was properly tolerated with every test subject.

The findings of this study suggest that CBD has beneficial effects with people or animals with schizophrenia. Because studies show that CBD effects do not depend on the dopamine receptor antagonism, this could be a future treatment for this disorder.

These research results help to put the current clinical trials about CBD and schizophrenia into perspective. If you or a loved one has schizophrenia or schizophrenic symptoms, it is important to consult a medical or psychiatric professional. However, CBD might also have a positive place in your daily regimen. Cannabidiol capsules, for example, can be easily portioned for daily usage, while vape juice may be easier to handle for individuals who already take multiple oral medications. Active CBD tinctures are easy to use as as they are dosed sublingually and come in varying doses and flavors.

Do you have a question or comment about CBD? Let us know, and we will respond right away. In the meantime, sign up for our newsletters and visit our website regularly for the latest updates on research, legislation, and other news impacting you and cannabidiol.

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